Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Jesus' Teaching

Jesus:  21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. 23 So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. 25 When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely will not be free again until you have paid the last penny. 27 You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 31 You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery. 33 You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’ 34 But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. 35 And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is His footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. 36 Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you cannot turn one hair white or black. 37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I will not.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one. 38 You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and do not turn away from those who want to borrow. 43 You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:21-48 (NLT)

Starting with Matthew 5:21, Jesus begins His explanation of the Law and the Prophets. The reminder of Matthew 5 (verses 21 through 48) contains a series of Jesus’ teaching, each introduced by the words, “You have heard that it was said . . . . But I say” (see Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). Jesus corrects not the Old Testament, but the misunderstanding of the Old Testament taught by the scribes and Pharisees. As Jesus stated in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). Beginning with Matthew 5:21, Jesus contrasts His correct teaching to the erroneous teaching of the scribes and Pharisees about the Old Testament. Sadly, the scribes and Pharisees ignored God’s written commands to obey their rules and traditions (Matthew 15:1-9; see also Mark 7:8-13).

First, Jesus explains the righteous meaning of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments, prohibiting murder and adultery. According to Jesus, it is not enough if we externally avoid murdering and committing adultery (Matthew 5:21, 27, quoting Exodus 20:13-14; Deuteronomy 5:17-18). We must also avoid even the inward thoughts about murder and adultery (Matthew 5:22-26, 28-30). According to the living Word of God, Jesus teaches that inward lustful thoughts and simmering anger are not marks of true heart purity. Jesus teaches that God desires our peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with others as well as sexually pure hearts and minds (see Matthew 5:8-9).

As to self-mutilation, Jesus is using hyperbole (or exaggeration) to indicate that whatever it takes to keep oneself in the way of righteousness and truth is worth our great sacrifice. This calls for self-discipline. Sin interrupts our fellowship with God. Jesus does not want anyone to walk continually in sin, evil, and wickedness (see 1 John 3:4-10; 1 John 5:18; 3 John 11). Instead, Jesus wants everyone to tame his or her inward heart desires, lusts, and corruptions and calls everyone too inward heart purity. Jesus knew that inward holiness was not easy; therefore, He promised to send His followers the Helper (Holy Spirit) to help us live pure daily (see John chapters 14 through 16). 

As to swearing of vows and oaths, Jesus teaches that God demands our whole truth and honesty in all daily dealings with ourselves and with others (see e.g., Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20; Leviticus 19:11-12; Colossians 3:9). In all our dealings, our words must be our bond. Swearing oaths and making vows for the purpose of deception is altogether evil (see Matthew 23:16-22). Your “yes” must mean “yes” and your “no” must mean “no” (Matthew 5:37; see also James 5:12).

Furthermore, the scribes and Pharisees had twisted and abused the Old Testament principle of lex talionis, the “law of retaliation.” The Old Testament contained the principle of justice, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” to prescribe and apportion punishment to fit the crime: no more and no less (see Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21). However, in the hands of the scribes and Pharisees, this Old Testament principle became a justification for a vindictive and retaliatory spirit. In the view of the scribes and Pharisees, God permitted retaliation whenever one suffered a wrong – paying back offenders for the wrongs they deserved. However, Jesus corrected the scribes and Pharisees’ vindictive teaching and returned to God’s original purpose of forgiveness, mercy, and generosity towards others (Matthew 5:39-42; Matthew 7:12; see also Romans 12:14-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9). Jesus did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered (see Isaiah 53:7). Instead, Jesus left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly (Luke 23:34).

Final example of the scribes and Pharisees’ twisting of the Law and Prophets concerned the second great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 5:43-48; see also Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39). Sadly, the scribes and Pharisees had corrupted the Old Testament laws to allow people to hate their enemies. However, Jesus taught that we must “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44; see also Luke 6:27-28). Peacemakers are children of God (see Matthew 5:9, 45). Jesus explained that God wants all people to love one another – friend and enemies (Matthew 5:44; see also Matthew 22:39; John 13:34-35; John 15:12).

As the living Word of God (John 1:1-5, 14), Jesus clarifies the true meaning of the Law and the Prophet and exposes the false righteousness and teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees. According to the scribes and Pharisees, an external righteousness will suffice because their righteousness was hypocritical, impure, and false to hide their internal greed, extortion, and self-indulgence (see Matthew 23:1-3, 13, 23-28). Sadly, the scribes and Pharisees focused on outward rituals, traditions, and ceremonies while neglecting the weightier matters of the Law and Prophets – justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and faith (Matthew 23:23-24; see also Micah 6:6-8). However, Jesus taught that God desires a righteousness that starts from the inside one’s heart, moves outward, and bears good fruit (Matthew 12:33-35; Matthew 15:17-20; see also Mark 7:14-15, 18-23; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 2:10). 

In summary, followers of Jesus are law-keepers in that they keep the Law and the Prophet not so that they may be justified before God but in order live in ways that please God and shows their wholehearted love and gratitude for Him – heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Psalm 119:1). Jesus wants everyone to be perfect (holy) and imitate the ways of our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48; see also Leviticus 19:2; Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 Peter 1:15-16). Jesus wants every to be like God the Father and conformed to His image (kindness, compassion, forgiveness, patience, and faithfulness) (see Ephesians 5:1-2; see also Exodus 34:6-7). The character of God is the true standard of righteousness in His Kingdom (Matthew 5:3-10).

6 The LORD passed in front of Moses and said, “I am the LORD. The LORD is a God who shows mercy, who is kind, who does not become angry quickly, who has great love and faithfulness 7 and is kind to thousands of people. The LORD forgives people for evil, for sin, and for turning against Him, but He does not forget to punish guilty people. He will punish not only the guilty people, but also their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren, and their great-great-grandchildren.” Exodus 34:6-7 (NCV)

ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Ross, Mark E. Let’s Study Matthew (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009).

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